There are lots of systems for character advancement out there in the RPG world. Most of them amount to a system where, at the end of a roleplaying session, the characters are all granted some number of experience points (or character points or whatever) which are then either 1) accumulated until a power where there are enough to advance the character a level (D20, HARP, Rolemaster) or 2) spent like a form of currency to purchase higher skills and other abilities (GURPS, White Wolf, BESM). There are also methods out there that base advancement on what you try to do in-game – the more you roll dice for an ability, the more that ability goes up (Call of Cthulhu/Chaosium, Burning Wheel)
For Epic, I wanted a system of advancement that is more direct, so instead of experience, you use your experiences to advance. As much as possible, I took out the extra step of accumulating experience points entirely. Essentially, each player in a game has a chance to describe what their character has experienced during the game that taught her something or tested her in some way. The other players and the GM help the player decide what category this experience falls into – if an Attribute, what Attribute? If a Skill, which Skill? The experience is then recorded as a note, or typed up as part of the game – whatever will help the player remember it in the future.
I am thinking that three such reflections on experiences per game session should be the maximum – this shouldn’t go too long, but there should be a chance to advance more than one thing in a given session. Right now, I like a rule of threes, so that when a character has had three noteworthy experiences in a given ‘category’ that category is increased one point. If each experience from a given session has to be in a different category, this means that nothing will advance more than once per three sessions, which is a pace that I like.
This experience system also counts to advance your Connections, which I haven’t blogged about yet, but these are basically a character’s social relationships – friends, family, allies, enemies, employers, etc. Any number of the character’s experiences in a given session can be social ones which advance, or move in a preferable direction, one of her Connections (i.e., reduce an Enemy, or increase a Friendship).
Another thing that this system accomplishes, which I like a lot, is that it roots advancement in the narrative of the game in question. A character accumulates stories and advances thereby. Not only is that incredibly well-suited to the genre of epic fantasy, but it is also a great way to keep interest in the game going. You are telling players to have interesting experiences in order to advance, which I think is the best way to do it.
This system can be used at the beginning of a game as a way of re-capping what happened last session, which would be a great method for groups that don’t meet that often. You can also have a blog or forum set up for the game, or have the players collectively write vignettes about what is going on in the game.
I really like this idea because it is a “heavy orange” as one of my professors liked to put it. There’s a lot in there, and it does a lot of things at once.
Here’s a brief example:
It could be very simple. A character who is a soldier was involved in a battle during the course of the session. During the battle, the soldier had a harrowing experience where his shield saved him from being impaled by a charging knight’s lance (an experience toward the Block skill). He also had to take a unit of scouts and maneuver behind the enemy’s position to cut off retreat (an experience toward Orienteering, Stealth, or perhaps Alertness). Finally, the character was able to make his way to one of the captains of the enemy’s forces and defeated him in single combat (an experience toward Long Blade, or toward advancing his status in the military – a Connection, or his reputation with fellow-soldiers – another Connection).
As you can see, its both flexible and intuitive (I think at least), so you still have a lot of control over how your character advances. Also, if you’re in a game session and didn’t have any interesting experiences, then why are you in the game?
Obviously, it could be a lot more complicated, and a group will probably take a couple of sessions to get used to this process – but its definitely one that I’ll use in the future, whether I’m finally playtesting Epic or not.